Joe Johnson buried a buzzer-beating layup to lift the Utah Jazz to a 97-95 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1, but did so without Rudy Gobert, who left the game with a knee sprain and is questionable for the remainder of the series.
It’s hard to find two teams that have had bad luck the way the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers have.
You could maybe say it started for the Jazz way back when they opted to return their draft rights to the ABA’s Moses Malone in order to get their first round pick back, which they promptly used to trade for washed-up Gail Goodrich before the 1976 season (Yes, the league really let them take a mulligan on a draft pick. It was a different time, a time in which the 2009 Minnesota Timberwolves desperately wished they lived).
Goodrich was paired with a pre-injury (and pre-coke) Pistol Pete Maravich and led Utah to three subpar years of basketball. What could have been a decade-long run of dominance between Pistol and Moses turned into three below average years that ended with Goodrich quietly retiring and likely robbing Maravich of the chance to ever win a title and cement his spot as an all-time great.
For the Clippers, we have more options as to where this started.
It could have been the signing of Bill Walton in 1979, who promptly played in less than half of the team’s games during his six seasons as a Clipper due to his well-documented foot injuries and beefing with former owner Donald Sterling.
It could have been missing out on Kobe Bryant in 2004 free agency by this much.
My bet is that they’re going to be eternally punished by the basketball God’s for getting Chris Paul after the league office denied a Paul-to-Lakers deal earlier that offseason. That decision will never-not be BS.
Regardless of where their bad luck stems from, the Jazz and Clippers appear to be trying to outdo each other this season.
Both teams have dealt with key players missing extended time, with the Jazz missing Derrick Favors and George Hill missing a combined 65 games and the Clippers being without Paul and Blake Griffin for a combined 42 games.
Still, both teams managed to grind their way into the playoffs as four and five seeds respectively, plus entered the postseason relatively healthy, with backup guards Raul Neto and Austin Rivers as the only names appearing on either team’s injury reports.
That changed in roughly 13 seconds on Saturday night.
On the first possession of the game, Gobert is seen setting an off-ball screen for Gordon Hayward, something he’s done thousands of times this season. Only this time, his left leg gets caught by Luc Mbah a Moute, bending it at an awkward angle and sending him to the ground.
Gobert was helped to the locker room and eventually ruled out for the game with a left knee sprain.
Just like that, the Jazz’s most important player was not only out of Game 1, but potentially the remainder of the series.
Utah was able to do an MRI on Gobert last night and the injury has now been classified as a hyperextension and bone bruise, meaning that there’s no structural damage to the knee, which is a major blessing for his long term outlook. His future in this series, however, is still very much in doubt and it’s likely he’ll miss at least a couple of games.
So if you’re keeping score of who has worse luck in this series, the Jazz now have a commanding 1-0 lead.
Nearly exactly 48 minutes of playing time later and the Clippers stormed back to tie that score up, thanks to ISO JOE JOHNSON.
ISO JOE WINS GAME 1!!! pic.twitter.com/BvhLpIVv2G
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) April 16, 2017
What’s even more heartbreaking for LA is that Paul made an absolutely great shot the possession before to tie the game at 95-95.
I have no statistic to back this up, but it seems like stuff like this happens a lot to CP3.
Make an unbelievable shot to take a lead or at least send the game to overtime on one end, only for everyone to forget about it 15 seconds later when the other team beats the buzzer. Maybe it’s not the Clippers who have crap luck, but Paul.
While the bad luck score sits at 1-1 currently, the Clippers will almost certainly have a chance to run away with this series if Gobert misses the remainder of it.
Gobert’s importance to Utah almost can’t even be put into words. He’s undoubtedly the league’s premier interior defender, ranking in the top three of almost every statistic on that end. Similarly, it’s his screens and ability to dive to the basket for alley oops that helps make the Jazz offense go, creating space for everyone to operate in.
An injury like that to such a key player throws everything into disarray not just for the Jazz, but also for the Clippers.
Suddenly, the guy they’ve been developing strategies for over the past week is out for the series and the entire gameplan has to be thrown into the garbage. It can be difficult for teams to make that type of adjustment on the fly and for much of the game, both teams looked out of sync.
Especially the Jazz, who apparently decided to pass to Gobert’s ghost here:
Losing Gobert hurts Utah far more in games 2-7 than it will in Game 1, mostly because Doc Rivers and company now get an entire day to gameplan for the Gobert-less Jazz. Expect a lot more looks for DeAndre Jordan than the seven field goal attempts that he had in game 1, as well as Paul continuing to find success when attacking the basket.
This isn’t to say that the Jazz are completely dead in the water. I mean, they did just go out there and beat the Clippers without Gobert, but it’s going to be a tough road, with much of the weight falling on the shoulders of Derrick Favors and Joe Johnson.
With Gobert off the floor, Utah’s third-ranked defensive rating falls all the way to 20, a difference of nearly eight points per 100 possessions.
Saturday night, Quinn Snyder made up most of Gobert’s minutes by shifting Derrick Favors to center and splitting Johnson and Diaw at power forward. This meant Favors was mostly matched up with Jordan, while Johnson and Diaw were left to contend with Griffin.
Favors actually had a really strong showing for about three quarters. Most importantly, Favors was just good enough on the offensive end.
Of course, he was nowhere near the presence that Gobert brings, but Favors had nice chemistry with Utah’s guards throughout, particularly on pick-and-rolls like the one above and on baseline cuts. In fact, Favors biggest problem isn’t necessarily his ability on the court, but his ability to get on the court.
Favors had yet another injury-plagued regular season this year and only played more than 30 minutes seven times, most recently on March 6. Simply put, he isn’t in great game shape and that really showed down the stretch, as Favors shuffled from one end of the floor to another possession after possession during the fourth quarter.
Maybe it’s the fact that he held Jordan to only seven field goal attempts and 10 points, but it’s much more likely that Favors was tired because he hadn’t played minutes like that for the entire regular season, nonetheless 32 minutes of playoff basketball.
Snyder will need to find a way for Jeff Withey or someone to take a little bit of the load off Favor’s back so he can be more dynamic late in games, or else CP3 and company will have free reign to attack the paint down the stretch.
If Gobert’s health is the story for the remainder of this series, Joe Johnson was absolutely the story for Game 1.
Not only did Iso Joe ice the game for Utah, he also led them in scoring with 21 points on a scorching 9-for-14 from the field, including a 3-for-4 mark from deep.
That’s some Atlanta Hawks Joe Johnson right there.
Johnson paced a Jazz team that not only lost it’s centerpiece 13 seconds into the game but also got a brutal 7-for-18 shooting performance from Gordon Hayward. Somebody needed to step up late and get buckets, Johnson did exactly that.
Just as importantly, Johnson had a strong defensive performance against Blake Griffin, who was held to only two points in the fourth quarter. That’s going to be a tough performance for Johnson to duplicate over the remainder of the series, but will be a major key for the Jazz, as I somehow doubt Snyder will be looking to use Boris on Griffin late in games.
Losing someone as vital to their gameplan as Gobert makes things extremely difficult on the Jazz, essentially meaning that everyone else will need to step up and be close to perfect in order to topple the Clippers.
That extends past Favors being capable of playing a full 48-minute game or Johnson continuing his strong play. Hayward will need to find his stroke, George Hill will have to play out of his mind against CP3 and the teams third ranked defense will have to be as focused as it has ever been. Even then, it might not be enough.
Then again, this is the Clippers we’re talking about, the team that has made getting upset in the playoffs into an art form. If there’s anyone that can lose to a Gobert-less Utah team in the first round, it’s these guys.
It’s not fair to write either team out of it after just one game, but the loss of Gobert undoubtedly shifts the entire focus of this series.